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Apache Said to Seek Buyer for Wheatstone LNG Stake

Apache CEO Steven Farris
Steven Farris, chief executive officer of Apache Corp., said in a May 28 presentation Apache was “trying to monetize” Wheatstone, according to a transcript. Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Apache Corp., the energy company that has announced $9.8 billion of asset sales in the past year, is seeking a buyer for its interests in the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas project, people familiar with the matter said.

The oil and gas producer is in early discussions with potential buyers for its holdings in Chevron Corp.’s A$29 billion ($27 billion) project in Western Australia, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Macquarie Group Ltd. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are advising Houston-based Apache on the sale, they said.

In the past year, Apache has sold its Argentinian operations, deep-water assets in the Gulf of Mexico and a stake in its Egypt business as it seeks to reduce net debt, which stood at $8 billion at the end of March, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Its 13 percent stake in the Wheatstone project could be valued at about $2.5 billion, according to UBS AG.

“A number of companies across the industry are starting to pull back from some projects they previously had been pursuing with a fair bit of vigor,” John Young, a Melbourne-based analyst at Ord Minnett Ltd., said today by phone. “They could perceive they have more attractive opportunities in the U.S.”

A sale of the Wheatstone stake would reduce Apache’s capital spending commitments by $1.4 billion this year and $800 million in 2015, UBS analysts led by William Featherston wrote in a report today. Proceeds could be used to fund further share buybacks, according to the report.

Cost Overruns

Apache fell 1 percent to $99.05 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 15 percent this year.

The Wheatstone plant will produce 8.9 million tons of LNG a year and is due to start in 2016, according to its website. Apache also holds a 65 percent interest in the Julimar and Brunello offshore fields, which it operates and which will provide gas to the Wheatstone facility.

Wheatstone is among seven LNG export developments being built in Australia at a cost of about $190 billion to meet Asian demand. High construction costs and a strong Australian dollar have hurt project developers including BG Group Plc, with the bill for Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project surging to $54 billion from an estimate of $37 billion in 2009.

Chevron owns 64 percent of the Wheatstone project, according to its Australian unit’s website. Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co., known as Kufpec, holds 13 percent while a group of Japanese companies including Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, jointly hold an 8 percent interest.

Chinese energy companies may be interested in buying Apache’s Wheatstone holdings, Nik Burns, a Melbourne-based analyst at UBS, said today by phone. Kufpec may also consider buying the stake, he said.

Shell Sale

Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed in January to sell its 6.4 percent stake in the Wheatstone project and an 8 percent stake in the Wheatstone-Iago gas fields for $1.14 billion to Kufpec. The Wheatstone facility will supply fuel to customers in Asia such as Tepco, Chubu Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co.

David Parker, a Perth-based spokesman for Apache, referred to comments Chief Executive Officer Steven Farris made in a May 28 presentation. Farris said at the time Apache was “trying to monetize” Wheatstone, according to a transcript. Parker declined to comment further.

Spokeswomen for Macquarie and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

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